In Mayawati's defeat, there's hope for Dalits

Abhay Vaidya

Renaming districts after Dalit leaders such as Ambedkar and erecting giant statues of Kanshi Ram and herself to project 'Dalit pride' may have helped India’s first Dalit woman chief minister to play her caste card. But clearly, what the people in India’s most populous state seem to want is development.

This has emerged as the central message that politicians will take home from the 2012 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh where the people have rejected Mayawati and given a clear mandate to the Samajwadi Party (SP) led by the dynamic and youthful Akhilesh Yadav. The SP’s clear majority with 224 seats out of a total of 403 is nothing short of spectacular.

 In Mayawatis defeat, theres hope for Dalits

There are clear parallels in the voter behavior in Uttar Pradesh. AFP

Where Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) came to represent a pompous, arrogant and corrupt government which spent huge amounts on raising statues and memorials, the young and charismatic Akhilesh Yadav spoke the language of development and the promise of a new UP. This helped Akhilesh overshadow his father and veteran politician Mulayam Singh Yadav, who had been rejected by the voters in the 2007 assembly elections because of widespread lawlessness and insecurity in UP.

Thus, apart from the traditional support from Muslims and the OBC Yadav caste to which Mulayam belongs, the SP emerged as an attractive choice for Dalits and voters across caste barriers over the incumbent BSP. Valiant efforts by Rahul Gandhi with support from sister Priyanka to revive an organisationally-weak Congress in UP failed, while it was another lost opportunity for the BJP to improve its numbers.

In fact, there are clear parallels in the voter behavior in Uttar Pradesh and the recently-held municipal elections in Maharashtra when it comes to the promise of change and dynamism. In both the states, regional parties such as the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and the Shiv Sena performed far better than the national parties. While both states have sizeable Dalit populations (21 percent in UP and 18.5 percent in Maharashtra), like Akhilesh in UP, it was MNS’s Raj Thackeray in Maharashtra who won the support of a large section of the voters, especially the youth and Dalits, across caste barriers.

The fact that both the SP and the MNS won seats in reserved constituencies goes to show that they had the support of other communities in addition to the Dalits. SP, for example, gained significantly in the Mayawati-stronghold of Poorvanchal dominated by Dalits, Kurmis and OBCs indicating the strong anti-incumbency trend and their vote for change under Akhilesh. The SP also won 56 of the 85 reserved constituencies in UP, as against just 17 won by the BSP.

As in the case with Akhilesh, Raj Thackeray’s appeal to the people in Maharashtra was to vote for anti-incumbency and in favour of change and development. Ironically, the Dalits in Maharashtra have been used and abused by political parties primarily because of disunity and multiple Dalit factions led by their various self-serving leaders.

The leading Republican Party of India (Athavale) faction, for example, entered into an alliance with the Shiv Sena-BJP for the Maharashtra civic polls, rather than the Congress-NCP with whom it had an alliance in the past. While the RPI won just one seat in the Mumbai civic polls, its support gave an edge to the Shiv Sena-BJP candidates in many seats.

The disillusioned among the Dalits, however, preferred to vote for Raj Thackeray across cities in the hope of a new leadership. The direction-less politics of Dalits over the past many decades in Maharashtra has been eloquently captured in Anand Patwardhan’s latest documentary, Jai Bhim Comrade.

Unlike Mayawati who frittered away her opportunity to focus on development and good governance, the new SP government led by Mulayam Singh – Akhilesh will be expected to chart a new course for UP, more on the lines of Nitish Kumar’s Bihar where good governance has become a talking point. As also demonstrated by Gujarat, there’s all round support from voters when governments engage in effective governance and ensure productive investments in infrastructure such as good roads and power.

Such steps help the economy in the state bringing in employment and revenues. When that happens, everyone benefits, including the Dalits. Hopefully, that’s the story that will unfold in Akhilesh Yadav’s Uttar Pradesh.

Updated Date: Mar 07, 2012 17:59:24 IST